AKEL has submitted two bills that seek to amend articles of the constitution regarding the years of service of the auditor-general and the attorney-general. The main objective of these bills is to limit the years these independent officials are in their posts, and is a very good idea. Under the current provisions of the constitution the auditor-general and attorney-general are entitled to stay in their posts until they reach retirement age, at 65 and 68 respectively.
The objective of articles 112 and 115 of the constitution was to safeguard the independence of these state officials and protect them from interference in their work by the executive. While this independence must be safeguarded, in some cases it goes against good governance practices. By keeping an individual in an important post for too long, the risk of complacency, arrogance demotivation and sloppiness set in. An even bigger danger is that the official proves inadequate and the state is stuck with them until retirement.
At present we have an attorney-general, Costas Clerides, who will retire in less than a year and an auditor-general, Odysseas Michaelides, who will reach retirement age in 14 years, having already served five years in his post. Having an official in the same post for anything longer than 10 years is a recipe for creating an untouchable autocrat, liable to abuse their power. This has no place in a well-run democratic state. There is already a bill in the legislature aimed at setting a limit of two presidential terms and the same principle should apply to appointed, independent state officials.
Akel’s draft bill envisages a six-year term for the attorney-general and auditor-general with the possibility of renewing the contract for another six-year term. While better than the current regime, the chance of renewing the contract is not a good idea as an official could pander to the executive in order to secure a second term in the post. Ideally, independent state officials should have a contract for six or eight years and then be obliged to step down. In this way, their independence is safeguarded and younger officials can be appointed. Under the current regime the executive might be inclined to choose elderly officials due to retire within four or five years and possibly past their peak so that the country is not stuck with them for two decades.
Michaelides has already expressed objections to Akel’s bills, but he has a direct personal interest and cannot claim objectivity in the matter. Setting a limit to the years an independent state official can stay in a public post is imperative in any well-run state, which is why all parties should support the amendments.